Tech Tips

Many of these tips have been published in our newsletter or facebook. These are repeated and in some cases expanded in these pages.

Never AssumeWild Seas Comp

On our trip to the 12 Apostles, I learnt some things I should never have forgotten. Fortunately, my students benefited from my learning experiences.
The Recci on a Wet Day. We needed to check out a location for the next day's shoot. Several students jumped into the car with me. It was raining, cold, windy and generally dull. Only some of us took our cameras. On arrival, the weather had cleared so we jumped out and walked. Presuming that it would be a brief visit - I only took one lens and no raincoat!
Lesson 1 - Never Assume the Weather will Stay the Same.

The Scenes were Spectacular - crashing waves, rocky escarpments and great light. It also rained again so I got wet and had trouble shielding my camera.
The photography was so good I ran out of battery power - the spare was in the car! I also would have loved a different lens!
Lesson 2 - Always Take All Your Gear including spare batteries - particularly in cold weather as the batteries don't last as long.

Dawn at the 12 Apostles
It was an overcast morning with no wind. We were in place at first light, taking some interesting shots - some facing East and some facing West. I had my camera on a tripod at full height to get some good shots. As more tourists started to arrived I tucked it into a corner and walked over to help some students. At that moment a gust of wind blew my camera & lens over and it landed on the bitumen. The lens was half ripped away from its mount. The camera was OK.
Lesson 3 - Never leave your camera unattended - especially on an extended tripod. Don't assume a gust of wind won't come.
Lesson 4 - Check your Insurance. If your gear is expensive - insure it. My repairs cost $1700


Ways to Avoid a Bad BackgroundBad Background Composite

You have a wonderful subject, the light on it is great, but what an awful background!
What do you do?
Below is a real scenario of my approach to the problem on the Forest Glade Trip.
The subject was statues of Storks in a fountain. They stood out well but the path, concrete rim and a hedge of Variegated Pittosporum behind with the bright light hitting it would not allow a good photo to be taken under any circumstances.

Initial shots taken 11am.
Different attempts at taking shots:
From another direction - not bad
Cropping in - getting better
Getting higher - wrong perspective

Still need to find another angle or different lighting to make this shot worth taking

Later - 11.30am
Reflections more interesting
Still needed to crop
Still need to avoid bad background

Later Still - 1pm

Reflection of statue with wind rippling water to create an art effect

So when you find something that doesn't work, walk around it, look carefully, come back at different times or even in different seasons or weather until something works.


What is in the Background?Background vs time of day Composite 2

Our eyes are very good at ignoring unnecessary details which is good for some things but can be disastrous when you are trying to create a beautiful image.
It is important to 'see' what is behind your subject, what is distracting, whether to move in or zoom or whether to change your camera angle.

Subject Placement
Placing your subject precisely where you want it can be as simple as taking a step sideways or bending down or even having a higher camera angle

Lens Default Position
These days, most cameras have zoom lenses making life easy by carrying fewer lenses. Zoom Lenses default to wide angle. It is important to be aware that the default position on compact cameras or separate zoom lenses is at the wide end. This may not produce the best image and result in you having too much unnecessary detail around your subject. Remember to zoom in to where you think the best image is.

Light Angles Change during the Day
Another thing to be aware of is the light at different times of the day. The series belw shows how light effects the background vs time. You will notice that some of the flowers are easier to see  than others

A Different Approach to MacroDifferent Macro Composite

We all know that macro photography is taking photos of small things. Usually the aim is to have a lens that allows you to focus much closer to your subject than a normal lens.

Getting Close
On a 50mm Macro, this can mean that you can end up a few centimeters away from your subject at its closest point. Fine if it is a flower or a crystal (except if your shadow gets in the way), but what if it is a butterfly or a dangerous creature. Get a longer macro lens you say. Yes, that helps. a 100 or 150mm macro gives you quite a bit more space.

Subject Flew Away!
But what if it is a dragonfly on a pond or it is a very flighty creature?
Use a telephoto lens with close focus!

Recently I was very frustrated trying to photograph Blue banded Bees. They are small and very fast. I had a little success by setting up and waiting at flowers I knew they would come to, but I had much better luck by standing back with a very long lens. The auto focus was able to cope as I was able to choose a better angle with less background.
I was even able to photograph dragonflies on the wing!

Which Lens
I still use my 90mm macro lens in preference as the quality is outstanding, but for certain subjects like butterflies, bees, wasps, dragonflies or close ups of a snake's head, I will use my 150 - 600 mm zoom (225 - 900mm on a crop sensor camera). It is the difference between no photo and a pretty good photo of a very difficult subject.
Many of the latest telephoto zooms have been designed with the ability to focus closer than older ones used to. This is a big plus for me.


Super Moon - Photo TipsSuper Moon Composite

A super moon occurs when the moon is at its closest point to the earth. We see it best as a full moon as it is rising. The moon can look huge as it breaks over the horizon. This year, it will actually be a blue moon as well. This is when you get 2 full moons in a calendar month. It is also a Blood Moon which is when the moon looks red  as the Earth moves between the Sun and the Moon, casting its shadow on the Moon's surface.
To get good shots of both these effects, you need to do your homework.

First, look up what time is moon rise and what angle to the horizon it will rise in. Next find a good location to take the photos. A place up high is good. Not too much on the horizon and not too many power lines (or none!)
Next figure out what settings you will use on your camera BEFORE you go out. Check these settings on the moon a day or two before.
A telephoto lens is preferable, particularly as it gets higher in the sky (200 mm minimum when high). On the horizon, if the moon is very large you may need a smaller telephoto lens. This will depend on how much of the surrounding scenery you want in the shot. Check this out the day before.

Settings Guide (you may vary this)
Exposure - use manual exposure mode if the moon isn't taking up most of the frame. You will want to show detail on the moon, not just a bright blob unless the surrounding landscape is more important than the moon.
f -stop  f 2.8 to 6.3 or higher depending on your lens. Higher if you need more detail
ISO depends how bright the moon is. On the horizon, you may find you can use 400. When it is higher in the sky and red, you may need a higher ISO
Shutter Speed depends on how bright the moon is. As you are on a tripod you can have up to a second or two.. Not much longer as the moon is moving! Check your shot to make sure there is no movement
WB -  Daylight or shade if you want a redder look
Picture Style - Landscape or similar
Focus - Manual. You can try auto. It may work on the horizon when the moon is bright

Finding the moon when it is high in the sky. If you have a zoom lens, start at the wide angle so you can see the moon and then zoom in. Otherwise check your angle to the moon before looking through the viewfinder or back screen and use small movements to re-align.
Your Gear
Tripod, torch (for seeing the settings on your camera), remote control or use your 2 second time delay

These settings are starting points
Try them out on the previous days when the moon is nearly full. Check your image for camera shake and moon movement (if a long shutter speed is used)
Enjoy the challenge! and hope for a cloud free night.


Focus PointsFocus Point Composite

To have your photo look really sharp, even if you have a shallow Depth of Field, you need to select the point where you focus, with care. It must be on the point where you look when you look at an image. This makes the viewer see your subject and then if you have the right composition, follow your visual lines around the image.

Even in a landscape you must focus on something. Landscapes have foregrounds, mid areas and backgrounds. Select your point of focus on something in the foreground or middle area (usually). Remember, where you focus, is where your eye goes to first when you view an image - even if  it has a large Depth of Field.

Creatures with eyes are easy - you focus on the eyes. However, this can be a problem if the creature has a long nose eg. a sheep or if the bird has a tiny head and large chest and wing area. What do you do? You try and arrange yourself & camera at an angle to the subject that has the minimum distance between the eye and the nose. In other words you take the shot with the head partly side on and have a mid to large Depth of Field. If you have to have a small Depth of Field, then you need to have the eye and shoulder or nose on the same plane.

Easy - right! Try doing that with a wild animal. Its patience and luck!

Tricks of LightOne Tree Hill Comp

Light can allow you see things or not see things.
That's easy you say - if it is light you can see, if it is dark you can't. However, it can be more subtle than that.

Light and shade allow you to see shape. If there is no contrast, it is very hard to see things in sharp focus or even define edges or separate objects of the same colour.

A wonderful example showed itself on the last Level 2 Landscape trip. One student showed me a great shot of a lone tree on a hill side. He positioned it perfectly on the rule of thirds, but something wasn't quite right.

The hills in the background formed a dip in the centre of the frame. I suggested he try and get that dip off centre. Whilst watching him  work, some clouds scudded past, highlighting and separating the two hills.

Then the clouds caused the reverse to happen - dark in the foreground with the back hill highlighted.

On consideration, the darker hill in the foreground was the better picture as the eye followed the line up to the dark tree. The other image with the lighter foreground caused your eye to be drawn away from the tree onto the grass.

Looking for Different Shots Different Views Composite

Animal & Insect photography is among my favourite subjects. I love going to any of the Zoos to see and practice photographing animals. They give you a great opportunity to take some really wonderful shots if you take the time and have patience.
After you have got all the standard shots, and you are good at getting exposures right, the correct focus and your framing is good, it is time to take the next step - photos with expression.
To get the best chance of getting expressions, a long telephoto or telephoto zoom is desirable. I used a Tamron 150 - 600 mm zoom for these shots. I also used a monopod, braced against my waist or dropped to ground level.
Capturing animals showing behaviour or having interesting expressions takes more time. It is best to plan your day to get there before the crowds. Learn the animals’ behaviour in certain weather conditions. Eg the lemurs all huddle up in the sun or their nests if it is cold.
Come back later if the animals are asleep. They could well be out on your way back.
Watch them while they are eating or interacting with other animals. Wait for interesting expressions. Use different angles. Wait for a bird to flap its wings or dive in the water.
Sunny Days - If you can go on a sunny day after a cold spell, all the animals will be out and active. However, you will have to watch out for mottled light ruining your shot. Go early or late to minimize that.
Be prepared to visit often. Every time you go, you will find something different.


Raw vs JPegs vs Lensessmall bird lens issues

Raw vs JPegs vs Lenses
I made an interesting discovery the other day. It is not always better to shoot Raw!!

I have been a Raw convert for many years now because there is more detail stored in the Raw file than in a JPeg, and you can non destructively edit it afterwards.
The dilemma I found was when I used a kit lens with my Sony A 6000. When I first used this particular lens, shooting JPegs, I found it very sharp and bright. Later, I thought the lens had deteriorated somewhat and when I photographed the tiny bird above, I was disappointed with the sharpness of the bird (I know I got it right!). So I did some thinking and remembering of some articles I had read.

The Reason
Some modern cameras use some very powerful Algorithms to sharpen images and correct lens aberrations of kit lenses and some other low cost, lenses to keep the price and weight down among other things. These Algorithms can only be applied when using JPegs. Hence my early photos were great when I used JPegs and when I swapped to Raw the 'punch' wasn't there.
Trying to Sharpen them in Post Production helped but didn't match the targeted effect from in camera.
This problem does not occur with my high grade lenses - they are as sharp as a tack and have exceptional resolution and colour tone.

If you are using kit lenses on modern cameras and wish to start using Raw - shoot both JPeg and Raw together and compare your images after you have done your Raw processing. They might show a difference, they may not. If you know what is causing the effects, you can then make informed choices.

Photographing Small Fast Flying Birds

fast flying birds
Tiny birds move fast to avoid predators and are almost impossible to photograph. Certainly, don't expect to be lucky to get a shot as you are just walking past one.

So how do you get the photo?
First you need to observe the bird. Find out where it feeds, what it feeds on and what times of the day it feeds also.
Honey eaters drink nectar so will be on bushes or plants with plenty of tubular flowers. At Werribbee Zoo last week, the Red Hot Pokers had Red Wattle Birds and New Holland Honeyeaters drinking nectar from the flowers. Although they moved fast, they did stop to drink.
Then if you wait, they might fly in and look.
Other birds might eat seeds, meal worms, moths and Birds of Prey would love a dead rat!

Fast Flying Birds
Another way is to put out a perch for them to alight on so they can check for predators etc. You can add some food on that for further enticement. Then have your camera ready and wait.

A long Telephoto lens is essential so you can be at a distance. 200mm - 400mm or more are useful lens lengths. Many of you would have that on your larger zoom lenses.
For the shyer birds, you may have to put your camera on a tripod, focus on the branch (manual focus) and trigger the camera using a wireless remote control. This is especially important for birds of prey as they have excellent eyesight. One I was trying to photograph even looked into the doorway where I was hiding and then flew off!

You need to have a lot of patience and persistence.


What is Bokeh?bokeh illustration

Bokeh is the out of focus highlights in your image. They take on the shape of the diaphragm or blades in your lens. This results in the shape of the circles of light changing from round to hexagonal (or similar) in shape when you change your f-stop. A small f stop like f 2.8 will give an almost smooth round circle. A larger f-stop like f 8 will give a more defined shape of the lens blades. If there are 6 blades then it will be a hexagon, if there are 9 blades then it will have a shape showing the 9 sides. See below (the coloured spots are reflections).

Lens Design
Lens design also contributes to the shape of these highlights. The optimum shape is a very smooth circle when your lens is wide open. It is usually characterised by a very wide aperture like f2.8 or lower and often more than six lens blades.

A high quality lens may still have a smooth circle at some higher f-stops too.

Strange Shaped Bokeh
The strangest bokeh is characteriesd by a mirror lens. This lens has a mirror in it to bend the light which allows a long focal length lens to be made into a smaller body. It is then much lighter and smaller. However, there is a small disc in the front centre of the lens that ends up causing bokeh to be shaped like donuts!

There is also a lens that has been designed to have bokeh that look like bubbles!
If you don't have any bright spots of light in your image, then you won't have any highlights or bokeh.

Seeing Lightseeing light composite

Many people see without 'Seeing'. It takes time, experience, observation, practice and if you are lucky - someone to show you the quality of light and how to use it for different subjects.
You have to learn to see the angle of light, whether it is bright or contrasty light, soft light, heavy light, bright shade or dead light. Then you need to learn which light shows up your subject to its best or how you want the final picture to look. Also - How does it make you feel!

Some Rules of Thumb

  • Simple subjects can look good with high contrast light
  • Complex subjects look better with softer or low contrast light- eg cloudy day

The aim is to choose the type of light to allow your subject to be easily seen. If you have to search the picture to find out what the subject is - the light is wrong

Eg. a wide view of a garden with lots of flowers and shrubs.
Full Sun - Wrong Light. The sun creates many shadows and highlights, creating a confusing scene.
Light Cloud - Better Light. Allows the colours and flowers to be easily seen. no strong shadows creating confusion.
Heavy Cloud - OK, but may not be good. Plants can be easily seen, but the image may lack 'life'

Next time you go out to photograph - look closely at the light and see how it effects your subject. Try squinting your eyes to get a better impression. Remember, you see in 3 dimensions, your image will end up as 2 dimensions.

Morning Light - Why is it so Good?morning light composite

You may have heard of the Golden hour. This is a short time around sunrise and sunset. The angle of the light is low and creates shadows and on water - reflections- that are useful to photograph with. As it is light at a low angle, it also reveals shape and texture and often the colour is also beautiful.

The good photographic light lasts a little past this and slowly (or fast if you have a lot to photograph) changes till either side of mid day, you may as well have a siesta! There are some exceptions of course - like if you have created side lighting by stopping the top light influencing the subject.

Winter light also is low in the sky so it can be still ok in the middle of the day if you take care with your camera angles.

Being able to isolate your subject by placing a shadow behind it simplifies the image. Keep in mind the KIS principal - Keep it Simple!

With low light angles and photographing toward the sun, you need to be aware of flare (sun hitting the lens). It can look great (see photo) or it can ruin a photo if the flare covers your main subject.

The light as it gets towards mid day often creates many small shadows under the subject as well as having lots of splotches of intense light. It makes it very hard to easily see the subject

You can see it yourself because you have binocular vision and your brain is very good at interpreting what it sees. However, once you have only one eye (a lens) and it is going on a 2 dimensional substrate, you need to use shadows correctly to be able to see your subject properly.

A way to test a scene is to squint your eyes, this will reveal a lot of conflicts! If it looks good doing this, there is a chance you may get a good photo.

Photographing in the High PlainsHigh Plains Composite vs2

The High Plains are beautiful and there is a lot of potential for great shots - but there is a lot to keep in mind.

First there is the light! (Always the light...) It can change in an instant along with the weather. You can be photographing insects on flowers in full sun and then realise the light is dropping and you need to keep altering your exposure. Then you look over your shoulder and see the mist scudding over the hills.

The Huts in Fog!
You grab these shots and then think - wow! the huts would look great - if you can get there and it stays foggy, and doesn't change to a white out followed by torrential rain!

The wind keeps blowing!
It’s hard to take photos of moving flowers. You can use a device (a plamp or home-made equivalent) to hold the stalks gently and stop them moving or you can wait between gusts and grab the shot when it stops. Both work well - Make sure your shutter speed is high though - at least 1/250th sec.

Best Light & Least Wind
To avoid the wind and get the best light, you need to be up very early - soon after dawn.  Also, late afternoon can be good.

Don't forget the stars on clear nights too. You can get magnificent shots but don't forget your tripod and some warm clothes!


How to Photograph Grassesgrass composite

It can sometimes be difficult making a meaningful image with grasses. Below are several ways to try.

1) Select a single or small group of heads - preferably all on the same plane, and then choose a low depth of field (2.8 - 5.6). Choose a camera angle that has little in the background or items a long way behind, or use the sky and take the photo. This should highlight the grass head and stems and blur the background.
2) Try the same with the light behind the grass head and expose for the grass.
3) Get further back from the subject, getting a large amount of the grasses in the picture. Use a low camera angle and try using the sky to place the tops of the heads against.
4) Select a grass head that is in the sun with a shadow behind it. You may have to move yourself and the camera angle to achieve this. Expose for the grass head and let the background go black.

To do the above you can use any normal wide angle, standard or telephoto lens. When you want to photograph just the head, or detail in the flowers or pollen, you will need a macro lens. You may then need a tripod if you ar up very close and especially if the light is not strong.

If you wish to go closer and photograph tiny structures in the seeds etc. you will probably need to use a camera mounted on a microscope.

Understanding Lenses - from Wide to Telephotolenses collage

Zoom Lenses are many lenses in one
Many people new to photography have only used zoom lenses and consequently have trouble understanding just what a wide angle or telephoto lens is. Read on to get an insight!
Pre zoom lenses, one bought a camera with a standard lens. This lens on a 35mm camera was a 50mm prime lens and it gave you the same view as your eye sees.
When you wanted a wider view than your eye sees, you bought a wide angled lens
When you wanted to magnify your image and bring your subject closer to you, you bought a telephoto lens

Sensor Size
So what focal length is a 'standard lens' on your zoom lens?
Firstly, you need to know what size your sensor is. Eg. is it a full frame (same as a 35mm negative), a crop sensor (most DSLR cameras) or a four thirds sensor eg Olympus, some Panasonic and Sony hybrid cameras. All quoted focal length numbers relate back to a 35mm negative - hence calling it 'full frame

Standard Lenses
So... a standard focal length (as your eye sees) is:
50mm on a full frame
37mm on a crop sensor (APSC)
25mm on a four thirds system

Wide Angle
Any numbers below those listed above means you are using a wide angled lens. Using this lens allows you to fit much more of what you are seeing into your picture. Your subject will look smaller and further away, and at very wide angles, objects at the edges will bend inwards. To use this well, think about putting objects close to the camera to create a more interesting picture.

Any of the numbers above the standard lens gives you a telephoto effect. Subjects will appear closer and magnified. Objects in the distance will appear compressed. This is great when you can't physically get close to your subject. It is also good for portraits as it gives a more acurate face shape than wide angle. It also allows you to keep a good distance from your subject so you don't intimidate them or scare them away.


I Can See it - Why Can't I Take It subject separation through light

How often have you seen something terrific, but when you take the photo, the subject blends into the background? We have all experienced that. The reason is, we see with binocular vision which allows us to separate the subject from the background. The camera only has one eye and can't do this.

We have to learn to see. One handy trick is to squint your eyes - this almost reduces the colour to monotone and allows you to see distractions more clearly.  You can then use other methods to isolate the subject.

The series of photos below is of the same tree, but using different light, Depth of Field, contrasting backgrounds and different direction of light.

Try these techniques.
1. Have different light on the subject than the background. eg have sun on the subject and shade on the background.
2. Get closer to your subject. This creates a larger relative distance behind the subject which blurs the background more.
3. Take in duller light for example when it is raining or nearly so.
4. Take the shot as a silhouette against the sky or light background
5. Use a low aperture to help blur the background

Doing any of these suggestions, might mean that you end up with a different image than you first envisaged. However, the photo you end up with, should be more interesting and pleasing to look at.


Photographing In the WindWind Photography Comp

What do you do? Do you pack up and go to the pub or do you use the wind and make images that show movement? Or if it is a wildflower you are photographing - do you shelter it or constrain it?
Answer - a combination of these answers can be used. In many cases it depends on the subject.

An atmospheric shot can show trees leaning over and leaves being blown around. Choose your shutter speed carefully - too fast and it doesn't look like it is moving at all and too slow and it will be too blurry. This is a shot where you would have to experiment with the settings.

Many native flowers are on thin stems and move with the slightest breeze. If you start early in the morning the air is usually still. If the flower starts moving you focus on the rest position of the flower and wait till the wind stops again. Have a high shutter speed. In slight breezes you can use skewers and pegs to hold the stem still or try and shield the wind with your reflector.

Take a Movie 
Another alternative with flowers or larger subjects if the wind is too high, is to take a short movie of it. Even if your subject goes in and out of focus as it moves, the eye compensates for it and the movie can be quite watchable. Sometimes it can be even more instructive as it shows how things move in the wind, or if it is a creature - how it manages it.

Keep your thinking hat on and step outside the round.

Photographing Birds
Bird Photog Composite

Birds look beautiful and are all around us, but when you get your camera out and try taking photos, you realize how small they are as well as how observant & how fast they fly away.

Bird Stands
Recently I stayed with a friend at Mallacoota who has judiciously placed some tree branches to allow birds to sit on them. The branch is high enough for the birds to see around to make sure they feel safe. He occasionally puts out some crumbs of cheese for the Wrens and Grey Shrike Thrush This makes them stay for a bit whilst being photographed. Its a good way to get good shots up close.

The Whistling Kite was another matter though. A dead rat was put out for the kite who flies past regularly. He takes the rat and has a good feed. Recently my friend set up his camera nearby and triggered the shutter via a wireless remote from inside his house and got some good photos.
I tried the same, but I had a bigger camera and lens, and a taller tripod. The kite wouldn't come. I sat in the car - he wouldn't come. Next I went into the house and sat in the doorway holding my camera. The kite came, flew past and around several times then flew away. It came back for the rat when we went out!!
Lesson - Purchase some lens camouflage and a wireless remote, and try again

Sanctuaries and zoos are great places to learn the skills needed to photograph these illusive creatures.
When your technique is under control - especially if you have bought one of these new large zooms - go to picnic grounds and practice on those birds. They are used to people and let you get closer than the wild ones.

Wild Birds. Finally, when you are familiar and quick with those birds, it is time to try ones in the wild. Join a bird watching or bird photography group who know the good places to go.
In the meanwhile, check the Day Trip in August which is on birds at the sanctuary.

Using Depth of FieldDepth of Field Illustrations

Most of us know by now the principals of Depth of Field - Large number f-stop eg f16, gives a large depth of Field and a small numbered f-stop eg f4 gives a shallow Depth of Field. But when do you use them? 
The classic example is the difference between landscapes and portraits.

Landscapes - you want a large DoF because you want a lot in sharp focus - so you use f 16 or similar. See Infra Red photo above.

Portraits - particularly for head and shoulder shots, you want to separate the person from the background so a shallow DoF so you use f4
But - if you want to use the background behind the person as part of the image for context - then you may need to use a larger DoF like f 5.6 or f8. Not too large though, because if you are using the background you are more likely to be further away, so the DoF for the same f-stop will be larger!

Confused yet? Try this one.

For Macro shots you often want a blurred background, so you use a low f-stop right? Wrong! You use a very high f-stop!

Why? because the closer you are to a subject the smaller the DoF for a given f-stop. Also the longer the lens the smaller the DoF for a given f-stop. So for Macro shots of tiny subjects, often the DoF is only millimetres in length. This means that your focus must be critically sharp and on the right spot.

What about photos of grasses? There are 2 shots below - 1 has a an f-stop of 2.8 and the image is soft and arty. The other has an f-stop of f8 and shows the grass heads in detail. Both are good photos, they just show different things.

There is no right and wrong with Depth of Field. It is up to the person taking the image to decide what he wants to show and how much is sharply in focus. If it looks right and it tells the story you wish to show - then it is right.

Still confused about when to use which one? There are a few classes that will help - Making it Work - Depth of Field in Detail- which is running in August and the Level 3 lessons on Composition.

In the meanwhile try different f-stops and see what happens

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